- The Washington Times - Saturday, September 24, 2005

NEW ORLEANS — Mayor C. Ray Nagin yesterday said the renewed flooding caused by Hurricane Rita will set the city’s recovery back by three to five days.

But, the mayor said, he expects some New Orleans residents will be able to return to the driest areas by early this week.

A heavy rush of water continued to spill over the eastern lip of the Industrial Canal — the wide path of water connecting the Mississippi River to Lake Pontchartrain. The water created a new, 4- to 12-foot-deep flood through much of the 9th Ward, the city’s poorest.

Winds from Rita diminished enough by day’s end for Army helicopters to renew the process of dropping massive sandbags onto the breached section of levee. By yesterday afternoon, the flow out of the canal had stopped.

“Water has receded in the Industrial Canal. High tide was at 7:45 a.m. this morning, and the water has receded since,” said Mitch Frazier, an Army Corps of Engineers spokesman.

In all, officials said about 15 percent of New Orleans proper is underwater, compared with the 80 percent to 90 percent flooded in Hurricane Katrina’s wake three weeks ago.

Speaking to reporters at his headquarters inside the heavily damaged Hyatt hotel, Mr. Nagin said he was satisfied Rita had not led to a full-blown reflooding.

“I’m still feeling pretty good about our prospects. Hopefully we won’t have another event,” the mayor said. “It’s like your washing machine: First Katrina was kind of the wash cycle. Rita seems to be the rinse cycle. I hope we get an opportunity just to hang on the line and dry, and not go through the spin cycle.”

But floodwater-pumping remained on hold because canals that would carry the water back to Lake Pontchartrain had been blocked strategically with large metal sheets to protect against the surge caused by Rita.

Mr. Nagin and others said pumping from the 9th Ward and other areas would resume quickly, but gave few specifics since rain and heavy winds continued to batter the region through much of the day.

“All we have to do is remove the sheets, the protective barrier from the 17th Street Canal and the London Avenue Canal and start that pumping process,” the mayor said.

“That should be done relatively quickly,” he said. “As far as the Lower 9th Ward, that’s going to take a little longer. It probably will take two to three days at the earliest and five days at the longest [to get pumps running].”

The city was on track to let some residents back in before Rita, starting tomorrow or Tuesday with the Algiers neighborhood, which has electricity and water.

Mr. Nagin stressed that, in the coming days, residents will not be encouraged to bring children or senior citizens back into the city because of the possible need for another quick evacuation.

“We’re talking about people who are mobile. We’re not asking people to come back who have a lot of kids, a lot of senior citizens,” he said.

A spokesman for Coast Guard Vice Adm. Thad W. Allen, who heads the federal disaster effort in New Orleans, had no immediate comment.

On the city’s western edge, opposite the 9th Ward, some residents tried to find their way around police roadblocks.

Even farther west, Louis Armstrong New Orleans International Airport reopened after closing as Rita bore down. At least one gas station in the area and several major retailers, Home Depot among them, were open for business.

Exhausted-looking police officers, parked near ramps to Interstate 10, said a portion of the highway was flooded near downtown. There, streets remain all but deserted, aside from a heavy presence of police and National Guard and a few hundred contract and relief workers.

Police Superintendent Edwin Compass III said security is the best it has been since the chaotic evacuation and descent into anarchy three weeks ago. With police manning all major entry points, no arrests have been made in the city for two days, he said.

Mr. Nagin praised the Army Corps of Engineers for patching levees after Katrina. He brushed aside rumors that the Corps did a less thorough job on the Industrial Canal because it protects the city’s poorest neighborhoods.

Stephen E. Browning, a regional director for the Corps here, said the Industrial Canal breach had been much harder to seal than the 17th Street and London Avenue canals. The Industrial Canal, he said, is considerably wider and carries higher water pressure.

Significant new flooding in the bayou south of New Orleans prompted some residents to call it quits.

Anthony Gisclair, 46, from Lafitte, had to have his family rescued.

“I’ve been here all my life and I ain’t coming back,” said Mr. Gisclair, who himself managed to escape the new floodwaters by boat. “There’s nothing to come back to. We’re going to try to start over in a different place.”

• Rodney Lamkey Jr. contributed to this report.

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